Thursday, November 21, 2013

Are You Teaching Your Child Self-Denial?

Recently, the girls and I went shopping for our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. Several days prior, I shared with them a new rule.

"Nothing new from now until Christmas." 

From the middle of November until December 25th, we spend money only on essentials. No new toys, clothes, books, or music. Of course there can be exceptions, but the point of the rule is (1) to learn self-denial and (2) to thank God for providing all we need.

However, no matter how many times we discuss this rule, children 5 & under don't always get the message, especially when surrounded by Disney princesses.  

So, when my three-year-old threw a temper tantrum in the Dollar Tree when I would not buy her Sofia the First crayons, I knew it was time to sit down and talk. 
"But, Mama, I need them."
"No, Cora, honey, you don't need Sofia crayons; you want them. Today we are shopping for your friend, not you. Remember our rule: Nothing new until after Christmas."
My child honestly believed she deserved those crayons and that I was being mean for denying them to her. Where would she get such a notion?

Why is a rule like mine necessary? 

This time of year every store is mailing out its Christmas Wish Books in hopes that children like ours will circle everything they want Santa to bring: Legos, Doc McStuffins toys, iPods, and tablets. And the truth of the matter: they will get all or most of them.


Because of our disdain for self-denial. 

We don't like to be told no, and we also don't like saying no to our children. When our daughter does poorly on her college exam, what do we do? We call the school and demand answers from the professor (source)!

We are teaching our children that they deserve everything -- new gadgets, good grades, the best jobs: Hard work not required.

But what our children (and many of us, I dare say) haven't grasped is that all the trinkets in the world will never satisfy our desire for more. There will always be something newer, shinier, faster that we need.

Not until we are filled with the Spirit and drink the water of life (John 4:13-15) will we know contentment, gratitude, and peace. Only then will we be able to say no to more and yes to Jesus. 

Christmas '12

So what do we do? 

First of all, we teach our children self-denial. Self-denial is one step we can take to help our children cultivate gratitude and contentment.

Denying my girls new things for 6 weeks out of the year is hardly sacrificial, but it's a start. In this "get-what-you-want-when-you-want-it" culture, we parents need to start saying no when our children ask for more. 

I want my daughters to desire Jesus more than Dora, to thirst for the living water more than Sofia, and to hunger for the bread of life more than Doc McStuffins

"O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; 
my soul thirsts for You,
my body longs for You,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water."
Psalm 63:1 

How are you teaching your children self-denial today? Are they learning to deny themselves and be content with what they have? Or are you giving them everything (or most of the things) they want?

Do you have a rule like mine, or am I just a meanie?

For other posts on Entitlement.  
Blessings to you, sweet Mama,

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  1. I love this post! I've been thinking a lot about entitlement lately. When we did our OCC shopping Kenna asked for a toy as soon as we got there, but did well once I reminded her what we were doing. In my head I thought about letting her buy something for herself when we were done, but decided not to since it really wasn't about her. She didn't need something to make it a good experience. I didn't put a lot of thought into it, but reading your post I'm glad I did. I'm going to work on watching for an attitude of entitlement in her and try to teach her a spirit of gratitude. The 6 weeks no spending thing is such a great idea!

    1. I think entitlement is constantly on my brain lately. Maybe God is really talking to me about me instead of about my kids. For me, I always want to reward good behavior with treats whether food or little gifts but they don't need those things. One of mine would but the others would love a kiss and a hug and an affirmation.

      The key to dealing with entitlement is (1) to look inwardly at my own attitude and (2) to be consistent in dealing with it in myself and my children.

  2. You are definitely not a meanie! You're a good mom to be aware of this and try to temper it, even though it's so much easier to just buy the dollar crayons. But it's the principle that matters and you nailed it! Good job! :)

    1. Well, it's funny because now both girls want $1 Sofia crayons for Christmas, and we're only doing three gifts this year, so it may be a cheap Christmas :)

      Thanks for the Mama encouragement!

  3. Our Orthodox Church has a custom of abstinence during Advent - like a mini-Lent - certain foods & feasting are discouraged, and almsgiving & prayer are encouraged. I do think that its important - whatever form of abstinence we choose - that our kids see that WE abstain from things WE want. Otherwise it's not "SELF-denial" it's simply seen as a externally imposed rule. And, as with OCC - it's very good to see that our self-denial isn't pointless, but it serves to aid our giving & our prayer.

    1. Anna, that is such a good point. I have to watch that this rule applies to myself as well as my kids. That means nothing new for me either. They do need to see that we are abiding by our own rule and not merely imposing it on them. Thanks for pointing that out!

  4. My children are only 2 1/2 and 17 months old, so I don't know just how much this applies right now, but I did want to say that I've noticed something about my toddlers. We don't have any extra money, at all. We never had a reliable income until very recently, and even that is part-time. Because of this most of the girls' toys have been Christmas and birthday presents with maybe one other thing every 6 months. I've noticed when we are out shopping and they see something, they never ask for it because they don't expect to get it. Even tantalizing things like stuffed animals by the register. When we say it's time to leave, they leave with no fuss.